Hornby Castle- Lord Monteagle the Necromancer

Hornby Castle

The first documentary evidence of Hornby Castle is in 1226, when it was already well-established. The castle we see today is a modern Gothic-inspired building, dating from 1847. But that in no way spoils the story…

Edward Stanley of Hornby Castle was born around 1460. He was knighted by Richard III in 1482, then after great valour at the Battle of Flodden Field he was honoured by Henry VIII with the Order of The Garter. As the Stanley’s family emblem was the Eagle, he adopted the title Lord Monteagle. As a symbol of his gratitude for the victory at the Battle of Flodden he built a remarkable eight-sided tower at St Margaret’s Church in the village.

However, local legend would have us believe that the octagonal tower came into being for a completely different reason. The legend paints Lord Monteagle as a rather wicked character, a materialist who did not believe in God. Neither did he believe in heaven; he said that ‘the soul of a man was like the winding-up of a watch; when the spring was run down, the man died, and the soul was extinct.’ He was believed to practice unholy rites late at night in the turret of Hornby Castle and the local people would cross themselves when they saw the light in the turret window. It was also rumoured that he had only married his wife for her money and when her brother died, it was said that Monteagle must have murdered him.

One night Lord Monteagle summoned the parson from Slaidburn, intending to have a good argument about theology. The two men argued for hours until finally the parson could stand it no longer. He stood up and told Lord Monteagle that only fear was preventing him from believing in God – fear of dying and going to Heaven and having to face his brother-in-law Harrington, whom he had murdered. Lord Monteagle was silent, because the parson was right; he was scared. And then the room became very still, and a white mist formed and moved around the place… it was Harrington’s ghost!

From the moment he saw Harrington’s ghost, Lord Monteagle was a changed man. And it was then that he built Hornby Chapel, as a demonstration of his new belief. He also began to build a chancel and planned to be buried there, but he died before it could be consecrated. He was buried temporarily in the Priory churchyard, with a plan to bury him in his own church eventually. But then Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, including Hornby Priory and Lord Monteagle’s remains never were removed. It’s believed they lie there still, in the old Priory churchyard which is now no more than a field, near the River Lune.

© Copyright Stephen Armstrong and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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The Passage of Fact into Folklore

img447This is the only surviving photograph of Jim Dawson.

Shown here with the kind permission of Jennie Lee Cobban, from her personal collection.

In my book ‘Lancashire Folk’ I mention a well-known story about the ghost of John Dawson who is said to haunt a lonely lane in Bashall Eaves. As the book contains so many stories, this piece is of necessity short, but after consulting several versions of the tale I thought I had all the correct facts I needed to write a decent summary. And then I came across someone who is in full possession of all the real facts – because she is the great-niece of the aforesaid Mr Dawson. Except that his name was Jim, not John. This was my version:

In 1934, farmer John Dawson was on his way home from the local pub when he felt a sharp blow to his shoulder as if someone had thrown a stone at him.  He looked around for his assailant but saw no-one.  His shoulder was painful but he gave it little thought, until next morning when the pain had increased so much that he asked his sister, with whom he lived, to have a look at it.  She was horrified to realise that her brother’s pain was caused not by a stone, but a bullet.  She immediately sent John to hospital, but it was too late and he died a few days later in Blackburn Royal Infirmary.

Police spoke to every gun-owner in the area and, as the bullet had clearly been hand-made, every workshop was examined for evidence but the killer was never found.

Today, the lane by John Dawson’s farm is still avoided at night, as many people have seen the ghost of a figure with a gaping wound in his back, passing through the hedge into the farmyard.

When I asked Jennie Lee Cobban about her great-uncle’s story, this is what she wrote to me:

“Jim Dawson, my great uncle, was shot in the shoulder while walking down a dark lane on his way home to Bashall Hall on March 18th 1934. The case remains an unsolved crime. He was shot by an unknown assailant, using an unidentified weapon that shot a home-made bullet as big as a bird’s egg. No motive was ever established and he died of septicaemia four days later. His ghost is said to lurk around in the hedges forever looking for the weapon that fired the bullet that killed him.

“His name was James (usually known as Jim) Dawson, not John. John was one of his brothers. When Jim got in after he’d been to the pub (the Edisford Arms, a couple of miles away) he didn’t say a word about what had happened, had a good supper and went to bed. My father Jack slept in the same room as his uncle Jim and heard him tossing and turning all night. The next morning Jim called for Lily Lee (nee Dawson – his sister and my grandmother) to come and look at his back, commenting that he thought he’d been shot the night before. My father Jack (then aged 17) noted that there was a pool of blood under the bed.

“Jim wasn’t sent by his sister to Blackburn Infirmary. He and Lily together went to see a private radiologist in Preston New Road, Blackburn who X-rayed his shoulder and discovered the large home-made bullet lodged there. Bizarrely, he then refused medical intervention and went home and actually showed the police round what was to become the site of his own murder. Jim died not in Blackburn Infirmary but a private nursing home at 20, Shear Bank Road, Blackburn on 22nd March as a result of the wound becoming septic.

“It is correct that every household had to hand in their guns for examination and that the police prowled round all the farms looking for evidence of a weapon that could have fired the enormous bullet. His ‘farm’, was actually Bashall Hall, a medieval manor house that the Dawsons had farmed since the mid eighteenth century!

“The ‘lane by Jim Dawson’s farm’ is presumably referring to Back Lane, the narrow and usually deserted lane where he was actually shot. People don’t avoid it because of Jim’s ghost – most people haven’t a clue that this is where the shooting took place! And unfortunately not a single person has come forward to confirm that they have actually witnessed the ghost.”

Jennie has spent a large amount of her time researching this case and, as a lover of ghostly tales and folklore, would have liked nothing better than to find someone who had actually seen the ghost of her great-uncle. Strange, then, that a local tour-guide was able to appear on TV stating that some postmen had not only seen the ghost, but heard him moaning ‘Why? Why? Why?’ And strange that the many other versions of this story, published in many other books, include it precisely because it is a ghost story, which naturally infers that people have actually seen the ‘ghost’.

A ghost story without a ghost? We shouldn’t be surprised. Proper and diligent research often finds evidence that a folkloric story is but a storyfied version of the truth. The tale of the White Lady of Samlesbury Hall, for example, names her confidently as Dorothy Southworth – but in fact there is no such name anywhere in the family pedigree. However, a similar story was told about Pleasington Hall, not too far away, where there was indeed a factual Dorothy. It is entirely possible that the stories became mixed, over the centuries.

Finding historical facts is part of the joy of exploring folklore and ghost stories. It must be irritating to Jennie to find so many erroneous versions of the ‘facts’ which have been published over the years. I can only apologise for promoting yet another mythic version of the truth – ‘Lancashire Folk’ has gone to print now, so it’s too late for me to put things right. However, as Jennie says, ‘…the ghost story has, without doubt, helped to maintain the high profile of this puzzling murder mystery.’

To read more – and you should, it’s really interesting – please see this link which will take you to the relevant chapter in Jennie Cobban’s book; ‘Wall of Silence: The Peculiar Murder of Jim Dawson at Bashall Eaves’.


(It’s a facebook post in images – go full-screen and keep clicking the right arrow for further pages.)

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The Maudlands, Preston – a Castle, a Saint, and a Well.

Preston St Walburge's Church

At the place known as the Maudlands, in Ashton near Preston, there is an interesting mound. Archaeologists confidently state that this was the base for a small observation tower, built by the Romans, with the purpose of protecting the Friargate entrance to Preston. Local people, however, always had superstitious feelings about the place, because the area was also known to be the site of a mediaeval leper hospital, St Mary Magdalene’s. The mound was commonly believed to be the site of the hospital’s church, now sunken into the earth. On Christmas Eve, they said, bells could be heard ringing beneath the ground.

The mound was excavated and found to contain a brick-lined chamber, narrow but about six feet deep, which the archaeologists identified as a powder magazine, where gunpowder would have been stored in wooden barrels. However, the local people refused to accept this diagnosis and took the chamber’s existence as evidence for their own belief, for surely it must be part of the church’s steeple.

Interestingly, the story of the subterranean bells of St Mary Magdalene’s is also told about the ground beneath St Walburge’s Church.

St Walburge’s Church was also the scene of a veritable miracle, in 1845, when a Preston woman suffered a broken knee which threatened to cripple her. St Walburge was a Saxon princess whose shrine was known for imparting an oil with healing properties, so a request was sent for a small amount of the magical substance. The woman’s knee was entirely healed.

At one time there was a well here, known as Spa Well, in the area below Maudlands, closer to Preston Marsh, near the river. The well gave forth copious amounts of mineral rich water which was valued for its health-giving benefits, so much so that late in the 16th century the flow was harnessed into a proper bathing pool, which was well-used. The water, which was said to be extremely cold, was described as ‘fizzy’ and ‘invigorating’ and this is why it became known as Spa Well. Any saint’s name the well may once have carried is lost in the mists of time.

© Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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‘Folklore’ – The Ashton Weekly Reporter, and Stalybridge and Dukinfield Chronicle – Saturday 26 September 1857

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I was browsing the British Newspaper Archive this evening (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) when I came across this collection of snippets… from a newspaper dated 1857, when Folklore was still alive and well in Lancashire.  It was also, coincidentally, the year my house was built.  (Meaningful to me…) Several of these I have mentioned before, but I’m delighted to find reasons for some of these customs, and more definitive descriptions.  Lovely!


The history of a district is incomplete so long as nothing has been recorded of the current superstitions. Although the belief in witchcraft is nearly exploded, yet in the rural nooks, and indeed in the smaller towns of South Lancashire there still lingers many a quaint relic of the folk-lore of by-gone days. Dreams are still read, charms and spells are occasionally resorted to, and signs and omens yet prognosticate lucky and unlucky events to follow. The following—more than one hundred—specimens hare been noted down at intervals, observed during the last seventeen or eighteen years, amongst the peasantry and cottiers of this neighbourhood. We have seen more than one tavern bearing the sign or motto “Luck’s All” and few persons disbelieve the old proverb, “It’s better to be born lucky than rich.” People frequently talk also of good, bad, indifferent, and ill luck, and such phrases as “I’m out of luck to-day,” “As luck would have it,” and the like, are quite common hereabouts.


Persons born between light and dark, i.e. from break of morn to dusk eve, will not be afraid of boggarts or fearing. (Fairies – Ed.)

Those born whilst darkness predominates will be nervous and timid; and those whose nativity occurs between the “witching hour” of twelve and one at night, will be able to see both boggarts and spirits.

If in new-born infant the vein over the nasal bridge appears prominent and of a deep blue colour, or in case the hair on its forehead assumes the form of a peak, either the child will never live to know its parents, or otherwise they will both die before it knows them.

The seventh son, as well a posthumous child, i.e. one born after the death of its father, is endowed with the gift of second sight, or prophecy.

A child with two crowns on its head is destined to reside in two kings’ dominions.

Infants born on Shrove Tuesday are not sharp, or old-fashioned, as others, consequent on having batter in their heads instead of brains.

Cross infants are invariably better tempered after being christened.

Babies turned without caps on Good Friday are not liable take cold.

When infant laughs it sees heaven.

Infants under a month old should not be permitted see either fire, candlelight, or daylight, lest they should become too “wacken” i.e. wide awake, or roguish. Probably, if gaslight had existed when this remarkable theory was discovered, it also would have been prohibited.

Cutting an infant’s finger nails before it is a year old makes it “light fingered,” i. e. thievish, and it will assuredly be hung; if too long, they may be bitten off.

The hair of infants is also guarded from the scissors during the first year of life.

When an infant teeths soon, it betokens that its “nose will soon be put out.’’


In leap-year, it is legitimate for the ladies to court the gentlemen; in other years it is not so; but when such events occur, it is truly remarked, “It’s time for’t yoke when th’cart come to th’horse.”

It is unlucky to court on a Friday evening, derisively termed “th’tinker’s night,” When couples are caught in breach of this point of rural etiquette it is usual to ring (drum) the frying-pan, as an intimation to the damsel that she ought rather to be cleaning at home, in order to lighten the domestic duties of the following day.

Long courtships are unpropitious; hence the rhyme, “Happy is the wooing, That is not long in doing.”

A bachelor of maid taking the last or “old bachelor’s” piece of toast or bread and butter from the platter is doomed to a life of single blessedness.

An unmarried person unwittingly snuffing out a candle will not be married during the current year.

Two sweethearts, standing together on two occasions as groomsman and bridesmaid, will never marry each other.

In order to determine whether a bachelor or spinster shall first be blessed with hymen’s favours, let them pull at opposite ends of that bone or duck called ‘merrythought’, until it breaks. That with the smallest particle will first enter upon married life.

A bachelor, or spinster, placing a portion of bridescake beneath the pillow when retiring to rest, will that night dream of his or her future spouse.

If an unmarried person suspend behind the entrance door either the entire peel of a turnip or a pea-hull containing nine peas, the first member of the opposite sex coming through the door will prove the operator’s future partner for life.

Place the butt-end of the key of the entrance door in a Bible, upon Ruth i. 16, 17: close the book, and firmly tie it with your left garter: suspend it by slightly placing a forefinger under each end of the bow, and the mentally repeat the above text whilst a friend audibly enunciated the successive letters of the alphabet. On arriving at the initial of your future spouse’s Christian name, the Bible will vibrate or turn round, and fall from your fingers.

On all Hallowe’en (October 1st) put some molten lead into a dish of cold water. On teeming off the liquid you will find resemblances to the several implements used in the occupation of your future husband or wife.

Friday is accounted an unlucky day on which to marry of commence a journey.

Two teaspoons found placed unawares in a bachelor or spinster’s cup or saucer, denote his speedy marriage.

After stirring your tea of coffee, a white circular frothy gathering on the centre is called ‘money’, and denotes a pecuniary gift or payment at hand. A small slip of the branch or tea stalk floating on the surface of your cup is termed a sweetheart, whose constancy can be tested by biting with your teeth.

Brambles adhering to ladies’ dresses are also termed sweethearts, and their devotion is exhibited by pertinacious adhesion, or otherwise.

To determine the distance of matrimonial happiness, get a new silk handkerchief that has never been washed, and look through it at the first new moon in the year; and as many moons as you see you will have to wait years before marriage.

Throwing an old ‘shuff’ or trash’ after a couple on their way to the altar is an ancient custom, said to have Jewish origin, and to be a remedy against unhappiness. It is now frequently done when one of the parties is ‘stepping out of turn’, i.e. preceding an elder brother or sister n wedlock. The popular verdict subjects the ‘slow coach’, i.e. the brother or sister passed over, to ‘dance barefoot’, ‘dance round the pig trough’, or the more arduous atonement of ‘dancing the peck bottom out’.

It is accounted a propitious circumstance, indicative of happiness, if the sun shines on a hymeneal cortege, or the rain falls on a funereal cavalcade. “Happy is the bride that the sun shines on; happy is the corpse that the rain rains on.”

Good luck ensues when a back-haired, dark complexioned man “lets the new year in”, i.e. first enters your dwelling on that day. But ill luck betide you if the first to cross your threshold is a woman of a light-complexioned man, and especially a red-haired person, who is believed to be descended from the Danes of old.

Lanterns should not be used by anybody on New Year’s Day, as it is unlucky either to give or take a light out of the house on that day.

Ill luck betides the farmstead harbouring ‘A whistling woman and a crowing hen’ for they ‘would drive the devil out of his den’.

If your nose itch, it is assign of news coming to hand; if your right eye, it foreshadows laughter and mirth; whilst the left denotes crying and sorrow near at hand.

If your right ear burns hot, back-biters and busy somewhere; but if the left, then someone is praising you behind your back.

Pull each of your finger joints, and add up the number of times they crack, and you will discover the number of your future family.

Female infants with small white hands are born to be ladies.

A flat hand denotes open (or free) handed disposition; whilst hooked fingers imply ‘close-fistedness’.


The sun shining through the apple-trees on Christmas Day, presages a fruitful season to come.

Trees retaining their foliage until autumn is far advanced, predicates a severe winter: ‘If on the tree the leaf shall hold, The winter coming will be cold.’

Aged persons assert that summers are not near so hot, nor winters so cold, as they formerly were. Farmers were then, whilst mowing, frequently obliged to wipe the honey-dew off their scythes; such a thing is now never heard of.

If the new moon lie on its back, it will hold water, consequently the new quarter will be a wet one. If the horns point downwards, it will be a dry one. If they point neither up nor down, the moon, standing perpendicularly, the weather will be of a moderate cast.

Caterpillars, called ‘rainy-bolts’ crawling on the ground in the daytime, foreshow rain.

To stop a shower of rain, cross two sticks on the earth, without watching the process. To put rainbows out, i.e. to decompose or annul them, cross two sticks, and add a very small lump of coal.

She-oaks come into leaf before he-oaks. The female broom flowers; the male plant does not.

The moulting of fowls is either pre-influenced by or has an influence on the weather: “if the cock moult before the hen, We shall have weather thick and thin; But if the hen moult before the cock, We shall have weather hard as a block.”

It is also popularly remarked that “Such a Friday, (as to weather) such a Sunday.”

It is unlucky to walk backwards, or to run at starting, or to turn again for anything after setting out on a journey.

Source: http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000966/18570926/087/0004

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Superstitious Lancashire – Who Will I Marry?

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‘Who will I marry?’ is a question which comes to the minds of most young women, even in these modern days when independence is so prized. If you lived in old Lancashire a century or two ago, there were several ways this question could be answered, not least by the use of a dandelion seed-head. Nowadays children call the delicate balls of seeds ‘dandelion clocks’ and they blow on them, counting the number of blows it takes to empty the seed-head completely, thereby telling the time. But years ago, the dandelion seed-head was blown to divine one’s age at marriage.

Once you had decided how old you would be at marriage, the next step was to find out who would be your spouse. A common method was to use a large key and a Bible and here is how to do it; after finding the phrase ‘Whither thou goest will I go’ in the Book of Ruth, place the key upon it, leaving the end of the key protruding from the pages. The bible should then be tied shut firmly and held aloft by inserting both little fingers under the key. Now begin to say aloud the names of all those eligible bachelors in your village. When the Bible falls from your hands, the last name you spoke will be your husband.

If that seems an irreverent use of the Holy Bible, a gentler method is to place a sixpence – preferably a crooked one – onto those same verses in Ruth, and sleep with the book under your pillow. Your future husband will come to you in your dreams.

Another way of provoking dreams of your future lover is to pin three ash-leaves to your clothing, wear them all day and then sleep with them under your pillow. This little ritual most likely came from our Viking forefathers – the ash was regarded as a magical tree in Norse belief. It was named Yggdrasil or the ‘World Tree’ and was associated with knowledge ever since Odin deliberately hung from it to gain wisdom.

You could also wait for a full moon and ask assistance with this spell;

All hail, New Moon, All hail to thee!
I pray, good moon, declare to me
This night who my true love shall be.”

Alternatively, you could wait till New Year’s Eve and arm yourself with some soft lead and a glass of cold water. Melt the lead over a fire and drop a small amount of the liquid metal into the glass of water. The lead will swirl and set into a shape which will resemble the tools of the trade your future husband will follow. Or, on All Hallows Eve, throw some hemp seed over your shoulder and look back to see the man who will be your husband – and if that doesn’t work, place a snail in the ashes of the dying fire and watch it’s progress as he traces the initial of your future husband’s name.

In those old days, when a child was born the father would celebrate by providing a large cake and a large cheese for relatives and friends to share. These were charmingly known as the ‘groaning’ cheese and cake and when they were cut, the first piece of each would be given to a young unmarried girl. She would take it home and sleep with it under her pillow – and dream of the man she would marry. A shame that we no longer see ‘groaning cakes’; the nearest we have today is a christening cake, so if you know of a child being christened, it may be worth begging a piece of the cake! You don’t have to say what it’s for…

Once you’ve found your true love (whether by one of the above wonderful methods or not), be careful never to accept a gift of knives from him. Ever since Viking times, these have foretold the cutting of ties between lovers. And if you are apart and unsure of his feelings, stir the fire as it’s dying; if it bursts into flame again quickly, he’s in a cheerful mood and thinking kindly of you.

Finally, don’t worry if he keeps Friday nights for himself, for Friday is the unluckiest day of the week and old Lancastrians would never start anything new on that day. Farmers would not start ploughing or harvesting, sailors would not start a new trip, and housewives would not begin a new piece of needlework. They knew that anything started on that day – including a love affair – was doomed to failure. Any young man caught ‘courting’ on a Friday evening would be chased home by his friends who would noisily banish the bad luck he had started by banging on pan-lids with pokers. A quiet night in the pub certainly sounds preferable to that!

Image copyright Melanie Warren 2015
Posted in customs, divination, knives, love, superstitions, unlucky days | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Superstitious Lancashire – Animals and Birds


They were a superstitious lot, those old Lancastrians. Naturally they were worried by a myriad of things unseen – the boggarts and ghosts that haunt this county – but they also held superstitious beliefs about all kinds of perfectly visible animals and birds. The living creatures all around them could foretell the weather if you understood the signs in their behaviour (I well remember my mother teaching me that when cows were lying down, rain was on the way) but they could also foretell death and disaster. Sometimes their mere presence was a simple good omen, maybe a promise of riches to come or even marriage, but just as often they were a harbinger of bad luck.

In old times, cats and dogs enjoyed the same close relationship with their owners as they do today, but they were also expected to earn at least part of their keep by keeping down vermin, hunting for rabbits for the table, or rounding up sheep. They were also able to foretell the weather; if a cat was sharpening its claws on the furniture, or if it was unusually lively about the house, these were sure signs of windy weather. If, when washing, a cat assiduously pulled its paw over its whole head, the weather would definitely be fine. If not, it would soon rain.

If a kitten chose to come and live in a house, it was a lucky omen – but if an old cat was approaching the end of its life, allowing it to die in the house would bring bad luck. Cats were never allowed to sleep with their people, because they were believed to suck their breath and their health away; likewise, playing too much with a cat would result in illness, especially if you happened to swallow a cat-hair, for you would surely die.

Dogs, being more affectionately and loyally connected to their owners than cats, were said to have prior knowledge of impending sickness or death and would let it be known by howling at the door of the soon-to-be-afflicted person’s house. If a dog was driven away from a house and kept returning, a death would certainly follow. A whining dog foretold bad times coming, unless a sensible reason could be found for its distress.

Another animal commonly found in houses was the cricket, who liked the warmth of the fireplace and chimney. The presence of crickets was considered lucky and if they abandoned the house, it was a sure sign of approaching woes.

Birds were also believed to have uncanny knowledge of people’s lives. Canaries were common family pets, loved for their cheerful singing – but their mood was watched carefully because their silence was not a good sign. Numerous wild birds, however, had more definite superstitions attached to them.

A jackdaw paying a visit to a house where a sick person lay was always rapidly chased away as it was an omen of death. Similarly, a dove was seen as an angel coming to take the sick person to heaven. In spring, the cuckoo’s first call was always listened for eagerly, for if the sound came from the east and if coins were in one’s pocket, then it was certain that there would be no money worries for the rest of the year. Swallows nesting in the eaves of a house were lucky and their annual return a welcome sight – but if they did not return, the household would fear bad luck.

Everyone knows that magpies can tell the future. A lone magpie is unlucky – raise your hat in greeting and all will be well. There is a rhyme, known all over the country, which lists the futures predicted by seeing different numbers of magpies;

One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for a girl, four for a boy
Five for silver, six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told

A much older version of the rhyme, recorded in 1780, says;

One for sorrow
Two for mirth
Three for a wedding
And four for death

An alternative version takes the number of magpies up to ten;

One for sorrow, two for luck (or mirth)
Three for a wedding, four for death (or birth)
Five for silver, six for gold
Seven for a secret, not to be told
Eight for heaven, nine for hell
And ten for the devil’s own sell!

An old Lancastrian version includes a witch;

One for sorrow, two for mirth
Three for a wedding, four for a birth
Five for riches, six for poor
Seven for a witch, I can tell you no more

And another version also recorded in Lancashire – dating possibly from the times of the Napoleonic Wars – ends in a very interesting fashion;

Five for a fiddle, six for a dance,
Seven for England, eight for France.

But whichever version you prefer, one thing is certain, that to see a lone magpie is unlucky. So remember – tip your hat to him if he crosses your path.

Finally, there is one particular Lancashire superstition connected to the common snail which makes me smile – for it is considered that catching a black snail by its horns and throwing it over one’s left shoulder is a very lucky thing to do. Lucky maybe, but not for the squeamish, and as snails rapidly withdraw their ‘horns’ at the first sign of interference, I’d think that this particular method of attracting luck is virtually impossible!

Image of Sykes Fell – copyright Melanie Warren 2015
Posted in animals, birds, Lancashire custom, superstitions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hackensall Hall, Pilling

Hackensall Hall

There may have been a Hall here as long ago as the 9th century, as it is believed the name of the place comes from Haakon, a Viking settler who chose to make the place his home. The Hall now standing near Knott End Golf Course was built in 1656 and there was previously a moated house on the site. Initials carved in stone over the doorway of the Hall indicate that it was built by Richard and Anne Fleetwood of Rossall. The towns of Rossall and Fleetwood are not far away, across the waters of the River Wyre.

Hackensall Hall is best known for its boggart, which took the form of an industrious horse who would work on the farm overnight, so long as a fire was left burning in the kitchen hearth for it to sleep by when its work was done. If the fire went out, the household would be rudely disturbed by the noises of an angry horse stampeding in the kitchen!

Lesser known is the fact that Hackensall Hall was also thought to be haunted by two human ghosts, whose rest was disturbed when their skeletons were found during restoration work on the Hall in 1873. It was rumoured that these two unfortunates, both women, appeared to have been deliberately walled up and left to die. The ensuing reports of haunting were so disturbing that a priest was summoned to perform an exorcism.

Image © Copyright Karl and Ali and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Posted in Boggart, Ghosts, Halls and Houses, Lancashire | 1 Comment

Lancashire Folk – the Book!


‘Lancashire Folk’ by Melanie Warren

Very pleased to finally be able to announce that Lancashire Folk will be published in November 2015, by Schiffer Publishing, as part of their extensive collection of paranormal literature.  As stock comes to their UK distributor by sea, it will be available in the UK from January 2016.  Priced at £16.99, it will be a hardback with 240 pages.

Journey through Lancashire, England, to visit 155 places where strange history meets creepy modern times. Arranged alphabetically by town and place, the stories tell of ghosts, witches, fairies, dragons, and altercations with the Devil (who is not as clever as he thinks!) Legends connected to ancient monuments, holy wells, and the locations of Green Man carvings are also included. Sometimes these tales echo history and sometimes they come from a deeper folklore. Sometimes ghost stories are discredited…sometimes they are not. A useful guidebook for tourists and travelers, this book is also an invaluable compendium for serious researchers. Stories are indexed by type and a separate index lists postcodes and Ordnance Survey map references for those who wish to visit the locations for themselves.

“Melanie Warren has collected British folk tales and ghost stories for almost four decades and her fascination with her subject shines through in this collection. For many years, Melanie was a paranormal investigator and took part in innumerable ghost-hunts but never saw a ghost, although she did have several experiences she finds hard to explain She was also BBC Radio Lancashire’s resident “paranormal expert” and co-authored two collections of ghost stories, which were broadcast on BBC local radio stations. Melanie is now concentrating on turning her extensive collection of stories and tales into a series of books, one county at a time. Melanie lives in Lancashire and has done so all her life.”

Schiffer Publishing, 9780764349836

If you’d like to be reminded when Lancashire Folk is available, use the contact form below.  Thank you!

Posted in Boggart, Castles, Church, Devil Tales, Dragons, Fairies, Ghosts, Green Men, Halls and Houses, Holy Relics, Holy Wells, Lancashire, Lancashire custom, Local History, Local Legends, Miracles, Mistletoe Bough, Mysteries, Railway Ghosts, Skulls, Stones, Traditions, Uncategorized, Way Crosses, Witches & Wizards | 7 Comments

Happy Oestre!

Wastwater with the Girls 016
The majority of Christian festivals have dates which are set in stone; Christmas and all the saint’s days are celebrated on specific dates which never change from year to year. Yet Easter, which commemorates Christ’s death and resurrection and so surely should have a specific date attached, is a moveable feast. We never seem to know exactly when it will be celebrated until we see it on the calendar. Will it be in March? Or April? Exactly when will we have our longed-for Bank Holiday weekend? We could work it out for ourselves, in fact, because Easter Sunday is always on the first Sunday after the full moon which follows the 21st of March. Unless the full moon is on a Sunday, in which case it’s moved to the following week. Got it?

It is puzzling, is it not, that the Christian calendar has not fixed a date for Easter, (arguably its most important festival) but instead celebrates it in conjunction with the vernal or Spring equinox and the cycles of the moon. Does this hint that the Christian festival replaces an earlier, pagan one? Certainly there is evidence that this is the case.

The Venerable Bede, born in AD 676 and so just about contemporary with the Anglo-Saxons, knew enough about their customs and mythology to state with some certainty that Easter was originally a festival lasting for the whole month of April, in honour of the goddess Eostre.

Eostre was known in many cultures, long before Christianity. She was goddess of the dawn. Her name derives from a word in one of the most ancient of our languages, a word which means ‘to shine’. Eostre was the light-bringer, a harbinger of Spring, a promise of new growth and fertility. (Her name is also the origin of oestrogen, the hormone so important in our reproductive cycle.)

Our modern Easter custom of feasting, then, derives from the ancient feast in honour of the heavenly Goddess of the Dawn, the bringer of Light. Christianity replaced it with a festival in honour of Christ’s resurrection – but retained the name.

Certain customs associated with Easter also have their origin in the story of Oestre. The ‘Easter Bunny’ derives from the hares who carried Oestre’s lights, at the break of the first dawn. In fact, the hare had been venerated for many centuries before being adopted by the worshippers of Oestre. It is interesting that in later centuries hares were often associated with witches, who were notably un-Christian in their beliefs and practices.

Easter eggs, also, are an obvious symbol of the fertility associated with Oestre. Before chocolate eggs became the norm, the custom was to decorate chicken’s eggs with bright colours, including red to denote Christ’s blood. For early Christians, just as an egg appears lifeless but new life lies within, the painted egg represented Jesus’ tomb and the act of cracking the egg symbolised the resurrection. However, in all cultures as far back as the Egyptians, the egg was seen as a symbol of the universe and continuing life.

Long ago in Lancashire, during Easter week, from Monday to Maundy Thursday, children would delight in dressing up as a variety of strange characters, sometimes wearing masks, and would go from door to door begging for Easter eggs from their neighbours, in much the same way modern children tour the neighbourhood at Hallowe’en. The children would use the eggs in games, often rolling them down hilly ground until the shells broke, or smashing them into each other like marbles. This was known as ‘pace-egging’ and in Lancashire this custom is still observed in many towns, especially in Preston where hundreds gather on Avenham Park each Easter Monday to roll their chocolate eggs down the gentle hills. The name ‘pace’ derives from the old term Pasche, which referred to Easter – the word deriving from the Hebrew Pesach, or Passover.

The symbolic meaning of eggs and their importance in the Easter ritual may also have been the reason why they were off the menu during Lent, the last of them being used up in pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. The chickens, of course, knew nothing of this and kept on laying, but the eggs were hard-boiled in order to preserve them. When children came knocking during Easter week, then, there were always plenty of hard-boiled eggs to be had and as they might have been hard-boiled for weeks and hardly edible, it would not matter that they were broken to bits in children’s games.

Even our modern hot cross buns have their origin in antiquity. Similar cakes were eaten during the month long festival of Oestre by our Saxon ancestors – marked later with a cross to link them to Christianity. In Lancashire of old, Good Friday (God’s Friday) was the day when children would go knocking on their neighbours doors bearing a basket for the collection of small cakes which were made specifically for this day; made with wheat flour, no leaven and lots of butter, they were more like shortbread and may well have resembled the old Oestre cakes more than modern hot cross buns.

So, Happy Oestre, folks! Let’s celebrate the coming of Spring and the Bringer of the Light, and longer days and warmer ones, and new growth all around us. Whether you’re celebrating with chocolate eggs or painted ones, enjoy.

And one last tip – don’t eat all the hot cross buns; save one and keep it safe till next Good Friday, for then it will have acquired the magical property of being able to prevent whooping cough…

Posted in Easter, Lancashire, Lancashire custom, Oestre, pace-egg, Traditions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fulwood Barracks – ‘McCafferty’ the folk song.

After my last post, about poor McCaffrey who killed two Officers at Fulwood Barracks and was executed for his crime, reader Martin alerted me to the fact that this terrible event was memorialised in a street-ballad called ‘McCafferty’.  The Officers’ names were likewise altered very slightly, but if this was an attempt to disguise the true identity of the characters in the song, it was a very feeble one.

Martin sent me the lyrics to the song, which was popular in Ireland, McCaffrey’s homeland. The lyrics are below. The song was recorded by many folk artists over the years, including Ewan Maccoll, but as I was unable to find a recording of Maccoll’s version, a link to The Dubliners’ version is below.  Enjoy!

When I was scarcely eighteen years of age,
To join the army I did engage;
To join the 42nd Regiment.
For Captain Hansen took a dislike to me.

To Fullwood Barracks I then did go
To serve a short period in that depot;
But out of trouble I could not be,
For Captain Hansen took a dislike to me.

While standing sentry out one day,
Some soldiers’ children came out to play;
I took one’s name, but not all three –
And with neglect of all duty he did charge me.

In the barracks court-room I did appear,
But Captain Hansen my sad story would not hear;
The sentence it was quickly signed,
And to Fullwood Barracks I was then confined.

For fourteen weeks and fifteen days
The sentence rose and turned my brain;
To shoot my captain dead on sight
Was all that I resolved to do each night.

I saw him standing in the barracks square,
A-walking arm in arm with Colonel Blair;
I raised my rifle, and fired to kill:
I shot my poor colonel against my will.

I did the deed, I shed the blood,
And at Liverpool Assizes my trial I stood.
The judge he says, “McCafferty,
Prepare yourself for the gallows tree.”

I had no father to take my part,
I had no loving mother for to break her heart;
I had one friend, and a girl was she –
She’d lay down her life for McCafferty.

Now all young soldiers take a warning by me:
Don’t have nothing to do with the British Army.
For only lies and tyranny
Have made a murderer out of McCafferty!

In Liverpool City this poor boy died.
In Strangways Manchester his body lies.
Now all good people who do pass by,
Go shed a tear for McCafferty!

Posted in Ghosts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment